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[United Front] [Education]
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Guerilla Elite Family Pushes Peace and Unity

The Guerilla Elite Family, is a family of brothers who stand on your 5 principles and struggle to apply them to everyday life, being in such a chaotic environment caused not by prisoners, but the COs themselves.

The Michigan prison system is built on lies and injustice. There are no real rehabilitation programs, everything that is practiced is to punish and to create chaos. Since being in prison for the past 12 years, I had to teach myself how to read and write. I was given natural life at the age of 17. I was thrown into an environment where the blind is leading the blind. I'm not allowed to go to school, because I have natural life. Yeah, where's the rehabilitation in that?

The Guerilla Elite Family was born to unify brothers within and outside these walls. We stand on peace, but I learned that there can be no peace nor unity as a whole, until each individual that makes the whole, has a sense of peace among self to bring to the whole.

We understand that we're not each others enemy, and our aim is to expose our oppressors, while unifying and bringing peace among each other.

We believe unity and peace is found through true mentors. People that the whole can trust and believe in to do right by them. We all have been misled in our lives and used by people we thought had our best interest at heart. So this is part of what makes it difficult to bring everyone together for peace and unity.

It's easy to bring guys together to go to war with each other. But twice as hard to bring guys together to stand on peace and unity to fight against oppression and the ones thats our open oppressor.

The Guerilla Elite Family will keep teaching and mentoring comrades and passing on reading material to help educate guys in hopes to bring about peace and unity.


MIM(Prisons) responds: It's good to hear from more comrades working in prisons across the country to build on the principles of the United Front for Peace in Prisons. As this writer points out, the prisons work to keep captives from education and knowledge, and so it is our task to bring education to prisoners. This is particularly challenging when so many folks behind bars can't even read and write. We can't just send them books and encourage them to study, we have to start out where they are at, and help them learn to read. MIM(Prisons) can only do so much from the outside, so we are working with our USW comrades to build a literacy program that focuses on revolutionary education. Write to us if you can contribute to this program with ideas or resources we can use.

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[Release] [Security]
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Resist Anarchist Tendencies: Stay Disciplined on the Streets

Yes, I'm a hypocrite. I castigate the anarchists for busting out Starbucks windows or torching the Governor's mansion without achieving any political gains or advantage; yet here I am doing 4 years for assaulting a pig, trying to bring a little Ferguson to Austin.

Subjective? How 'bout plain idiocy. I was not disciplined and had been losing my self-discipline for years. My present imprisonment caused my then 13-year-old granddaughter to ask how her grandpa could possibly be locked away in prison. I explained to her the contradictions between visceral and cerebral actions. In effect, I had to admit to my adoring granddaughter that grandpa was an ass at the time of my arrest.


MIM(Prisons) responds: We thank this comrade for eir self-criticism and willingness to share this mistake for others to learn from. We all face a constant struggle to navigate between right and left errors. This is a particularly tough challenge in the First World where we cannot ground ourselves in the proletarian majority to stay orientated. The above is an example of a left error; more specifically a left subjectivist error. Some ultra-leftism is based on a belief that armed struggle now is the best way to spark the revolution. While this comrade did not believe that, still ey gave in to subjective desires for action. We'd say eir action was actually worse than the real anarchists who have a line closer to the former.

Left errors are more dangerous in terms of getting put in prison or hurt. Then you can live the rest of your life in prison or on disability with your street cred for what you did that one time. Right errors are a less respectable way of giving in, in the eyes of most. But both are a form of giving up, particularly when driven by subjectivism.

Without a proletariat base we must seek out a source of grounding to avoid these tendencies. Reading and study is one great way to do this. Having comrades who you work with who can keep you in check is another way. This is one reason one-persyn cells are not ideal. If you do find yourself isolated in your location, try to stay in touch with an organization you trust through regular communications. It is also possible to find pockets of society where there is a revolutionary, or at least progressive current that can keep you motivated. Finally, music, culture, meditation and other leisure time activities can help you stay focused and orientated.

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[U.S. Imperialism] [Culture]
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Capitalism Glorifies Suffering for Profit

Afghan Girl

I have on my cell wall, "Afghan Girl," Steve McCurry's photograph that graced the cover of a 1985 National Geographic. I'm sure MIM is familiar with "Afghan Girl." It's one of my favorite selections of photo journalism/art.

2010, NG again dispatched McCurry to Afghanistan in search of "Afghan Girl" in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the famous photo. McCurry found "Afghan Girl," just as before - still living in the dirt. I would wager McCurry has made tens of thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands of dollars in proceeds from "Afghan Girl." Obviously, McCurry's subject didn't receive squat.

My question to MIM is: Should "Afghan Girl" be compensated for McCurry's photo commensurate to revenue generated, even though said revenue is derived form superprofits? After all, "Afghan Girl" was McCurry's model.

Extrapolating form the above, if prisoners are thrown nickels an dimes by the prisoncrats, are prisoners then feeding at the imperialist trough? I, myself, don't give 2 hoots if Texas prisoners are paid or not. That would just bequeath the man more authoritative leverage to be used against us. I don't give a fuck 'bout commissary, unless you're talking about boycotting or looting it. And the Texas so-called "good-time" scheme is a farcical sham.


MIM(Prisons) responds: There is some value, in a world where the government and its structures are actually serving the interests of the majority of the world's people, to superstructure systems of media and arts that also serve the people. But in the case of a photo exposing conditions of poverty and suffering, these should be used to identify problems and inspire action to change, not to generate wealth for the photographer.

The imperialists have come up with a myriad of ways to make money off the backs of Third World people. It is true that revenue for a photo is just a shifting around of superprofits; obviously there is no actual value or profit created from the taking of a photograph, or from being photographed. But instead this shows how the privileged in the First World share the wealth stolen from the Third World, to First World workers who are mostly engaged in unproductive labor. Rather than ask whether the Afghan girl in the photo should be compensated for the photo, instead we say that the entire situation is wrong and demonstrates how imperialism is more interested in profit than the welfare of human beings. This is just one small example further demonstrating that capitalism is a dead end system and must be replaced with a system that serves the interests of the majority, not the profit of the minority.

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[Organizing] [Texas] [ULK Issue 56]
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Struggling for Unity Through Study

The real task before us is to convince prisoners that struggling for pecuniary aims solely is to struggle for nothing more than a piece of the imperialist pig pie. I myself don't give a fuck as to whether prisoners get paid or not, just as I was not concerned with the whining "Occupy Wall Street" labor aristocracy complaining when their opulent pig lifestyles were compromised by the "Great Recession" of '08. Good! But I am encouraged there are some stirrings of dissent from Texas prisoners regarding conditions of confinement. It is before us now to harness and direct this dissent into revolutionary channels.

Since beginning this letter I have been approached by a prisoner housed in my wing. This prisoner, "Ivo," avowed themselves to be communist. Ivo receives ULK. Ivo was born in Honduras, but raised in the United $tates. Ivo is a Guevarista. I have initiated and opened a channel of dialog with Ivo and a Black prisoner, "Mississippi." Mississippi has preferred access to the MLM - MIM materials I have available. I have broached the subject of forming a study group with these two. The idea was received rather coolly by both. The three of us are to meet this weekend to discuss it. Ivo says they have serious reservations concerning the MIM line. When we meet I will inquire of their position regarding MIM's 3 main principles. As for me, as it is for MIM, these principles are fundamentally decisive.


MIM(Prisons) responds: We print this letter as an example of the hard work required to build unity. This comrade demonstrates how to build common ground with others, and then studying together to discover areas of disagreement and build greater unity. Of course there will be times when we find that we have disagreements too significant to continue working together. For us (and for this writer) those questions are summarized in our dividing line questions. Any other differences we consider to be non-divisive and things we can struggle through or put to the side in the interests of united action and the greater anti-imperialist movement. We also need to keep in mind that those who disagree with these dividing line questions are not enemies just because of that disagreement. At this stage in the anti-imperialist struggle these folks are still potentially valuable allies in the united front against imperialism, even if they are not communists.

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[Rhymes/Poetry] [ULK Issue 53]
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One Nine Eight Four

The terrorist attains his goals
by means of instilling fear and intimidation.
The revolutionary, being an egalitarianist,
attains his goals by means of instilling courage.
So who then but the government is the real terrorist?
Using the press and the media,
showing off weapons and technologies,
instilling fear in oppressed people,
giving them nothing but worries.
Wonder why the people are standing up no more?
After decades of being psychologically bombarded,
with nothing but pro-imperialist goon (pigs)
and military blows?
Big Brother's watching you, everybody knows.
Got you watching yourself too, from head to tippy toes
like you was living in One Nine Eight Four.
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[Rhymes/Poetry]
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Do The Damn Thang

Click on yer teevee whut's the first thang ya see
The U.$. military ova in da Middle East
Still starting shit
Wondering when will it quit
Constantly oppressing the third world
Wondering y we can't find love
I've been dere and seen it all
Watched dem stack deadbodies high as the Berlin Wall
While pouring on aggression
Without any form of repercussion
Contaminating the public peevish li'l minds
wit' lossa propoganda crap
And yu wonda y we write rap
We're tryin' ta put fools on point
To what the coprolited president
Wanna keep quiet
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[Release] [California]
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Notes from a CA Comrade Who Fell Back into Street Life

Well comrades, I must stop and apologize to all. I fell back into the street life, I had no place to live, I could not get a job, so I went back to the old habits. I have no family support. I came back with 12 years to do. These things are very important in the post release: a place to live, there's a lot of people that come back because of this. We also need to help find comrades jobs already lined up so they can touch down running. Also if there's anyone like me, x-gang members, felon, tattooed up, it's very hard.

Please put me back on the list for ULK. I'm no longer an active Crip, I'm going to college in prison. I am now on the SNY yard because of dropping out. It's hard to have a political life. It's easy in here because we have a place to stay, but when comrades touch the streets, life moves very fast and I was too slow to keep pace. So I'm starting over. I want to get right. One thing I do know is the imperialists must not win.


In Struggle.

MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade echoes the theme of most submissions to this issue of the Re-lease on Life newsletter: life on the streets is hard after prison! We agree with this writer that we need to set up serve the people programs to help our comrades hitting the streets. Jobs and housing are a priority. We don't have the resources to do this right now, but these programs are part of our longer term goals for the MIM(Prisons) Re-lease on Life program. And this is a way that people on the outside can get involved. Help us seek out existing resources that new releasees can tap into, and build the groundwork for programs we can set up independently. As a first step, if you know about resources in your area, send us information so we can share that information with others. Anything that you find useful will probably be useful to others: how to get food stamps, where to find temporary housing, places that help finding jobs, etc. Until we are able to build our own resources we can at least offer our newly released comrades some help with finding some of the existing services that might help them get along on the streets.

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[U.S. Imperialism] [Elections] [ULK Issue 51]
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Lesser of Two Evils

This year's election reminds me of the 1980 Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter neo-conservative presidential campaign. We have Donald Trump, the competitive imperialist bizzness mogul. Now we must ask ourselves, since we have lesser of the two evils, what is it that we as a nation want as a leader? But I find myself not liking or feeding into the rhetoric of both candidates, Trump or Clinton. Hillary Clinton favors exploitation of Third World international proletariat. Both Trump and Clinton have no solutions for the oppressed nations here in the United $tates or abroad. As senator Sanders pointed out, Clinton is in the pockets of big bankers and Wall Street. And Trump seizes the opportunity to expand his ego and exploit more oppressed nations, by building casinos, resorts and handing out slave wages to the proletarians of that land.

But what are the solutions to our problems in this capitalistic culture? One solution which needs to be addressed is a separate party which would be for the people and by the people. We must not allow the media to downgrade socialism. Socialism and a socialist party in the United Snakes of America is a must. We have to overstand what socialism is and what it can do for oppressed nations here in America. Bringing equality to all people, and ending global imperialism. But this brings me to Bernie Sanders. His rhetoric of free education and universal health care sounds good, but if you are going to support socialist ideas, then you must go all the way and build a socialist party, and not allow the two party system of Amerikkka to stigmatize socialist views and its persistent hopefulness.

As long as the wings of establishment support imperialism we will never get close to fruition of socialism. But what really upsets me is that New Africans in America sell out to capitalistic rhetoric by upholding or embracing bourgeois cultural propaganda. This is why the title “lesser of two evils” is used for this essay on the awakening of the lumpen to class consciousness.

There are so many contradictions within Donald Trump's “Let's make America great again” slogan. First and foremost, we must overstand what made so-called Amerikkka great. Stealing land and demoralizing the First Nations. Denying them culture and their own way of life. Enslaving New Africans, or might I say oppression of all people of color who do not represent white supremacy. That Trump slogan alone is a subliminal white supremacist statement. Making those who support the labor aristocracy continue and support efforts to exploit the white lumpen and the people or nations of oppressed people of color. Creating more wars, and war on the revolutionaries who will stand up to imperialism. And I can’t forget about Hillary Clinton who will continue where her husband left off. She was a supporter of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton. And we have the nerve to say oh she's for New Africans. I must conclude that what we have in this election is lesser of the two evils, Trump vs. Hillary. Capitalism vs. mass incarceration.


MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade is on the right track in condemning the Amerikan election system as a tool to reinforce imperialist power. There is no choice for the truly oppressed and exploited of the world. In fact, the vast majority of those exploited by Amerikan imperialism aren't even eligible to vote in these elections because they aren't Amerikan citizens.

We agree that the lumpen should be paying attention to this election and using it to raise class consciousness, but we're not in agreement with the implication that Bernie Sanders represents socialist ideas. In fact, he is just the other side of the Donald Trump "Let's make America great again" coin. Both want to increase the wealth for the Amerikan labor aristocracy which can only come at the expense of the exploited Third World proletariat. Even if Sanders spreads those super profits around a bit more, that doesn't help the oppressed majority of the world. Sanders supports the same aggressive militarist international policies of all the other imperialist candidates: “We live in a dangerous world full of serious threats, perhaps none more so than the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda. Senator Sanders is committed to keeping America safe, and pursuing those who would do Americans harm.”(1)

The problem isn't just that Sanders doesn't support an independent socialist party, the problem is that Sanders is muddying the word socialist, just like the "national socialists" (aka fascists) in Germany did in their day. This is not a word meant to ensure greater wealth for privileged nations at the expense of oppressed nations. And while it's possible Sanders could pursue a policy of greater advancement for the oppressed nations within U.$. borders, this would only serve to expand the ranks of the labor aristocracy on the backs of oppressed nations globally. We cannot support that sort of rhetoric.

MIM(Prisons) maintains that it is possible one day Amerika will fully integrate the oppressed New Afrikan, [email protected], Boriqua and First Nations like the Irish, Italians and others who initially faced oppression but later fully integrated into Amerikan society. This could even be done by shifting around some money from within imperialist Amerika. But judging from the popularity of the overtly fascist rallying cries from Trump and eir ilk, it seems more likely that national oppression abroad will continue to engender national oppression and racism at home.

This election is important for lumpen consciousness within Amerikan borders because it would be easy to be taken in by the Sanders rhetoric. Or to be frightened by the Trump rhetoric. And so be moved to rally around “the lesser of two evils” campaign to get on the streets working for the “Democratic Party.” But the lumpen class consciousness needs to be tied to internationalism. We need to diligently point out the suffering of the international proletariat at the hands of imperialism, which is the same oppressor keeping the lumpen down. The alliance should be between these two oppressed groups, against the imperialists. Not between the lumpen and the so-called left wing of the imperialists against the international proletariat. Our job as communists is to push the oppressed and exploited classes to the right side of this equation: the side of the world's oppressed.

When the Black Panther Party's Ten Point Program included: “We will not fight and kill other people of color in the world who, like Black people, are being victimized by the White racist government of America” they were demonstrating this internationalist class consciousness, specifically in the context of the Vietnam War. This writer is correct that we will never get close to socialism within the imperialist establishment. But we disagree that there is actually a lesser of two evils in any imperialist election, or a choice between imperialism and mass incarceration. These things go hand in hand, and one side's rhetoric benefits some Amerikans more while the other side would benefit a slightly different group of Amerikans, while the white nation remains firmly in power, and the wealth continues to come from the exploited in the Third World.

Notes: 1. https://berniesanders.com/issues/war-and-peace/
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[Theory] [Political Repression]
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Book Review: Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition

Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition
By Griffin Fariello
Avon Books, 1995

Red Scare is set in the time when there were open communist witch hunts across Amerika. Younger people may not remember or even have heard of the time when it was a crime to be a revolutionary in the United $tates. Although the laws have made it "legal" today to be a communist, it really isn't as legal as many think. The state's old methods have only been fine tuned and made more subtle, but the repression still exists and may even be more dangerous today than in years past.

Senator Joe McCarthy, elected in 1946, started off as any other Senator and then took a real fascist turn in 1950 when he began his anti-communist terror. His political life did not last too long as McCarthy died in 1957 but his ideals lived on and took on even more deadly ways in the years after, especially for oppressed nations in Amerika.

The 1950s was a tougher time for communists in Amerika. There were many laws that were anti-communist in nature. In the state of Texas for instance, membership in the Communist Party would get you twenty years in prison. In the state of Michigan to just write or speak subversive words would get you life in prison! No wonder Michigan today has some of the largest white supremacist militias in Amerika. The state of Tennessee would give you the death penalty for what it called "unlawful advocacy" that was aimed at communists.

This was a time when buying a house came with having to sign a "loyalty oath" denouncing communism. A student receiving a diploma had to first sign an oath, people living in the projects had to sign it for the landlord at rent time. This was the "war on terror" on steroids. Think of the round ups and harassment of Muslims in Amerika post-9/11 and triple that!

By 1956 Hoover's FBI spread its slimy tentacles so much that in the CP-USA, whose membership at that time was less than 5,000, one out of three members was an FBI informant. This may help explain CP-USA's passivity on many issues at that time. It was a time when the feds had three informants in a three-persyn CP unit, so entire units were comprised of informants, which also helped to ensure who was supplying reliable information and who wasn't as the informants were not aware the others were informants.

The information on surveillance and what one ex-FBI agent called "bag jobs" was enlightening. It was a look on how the feds really teach their agents about those of us who want to free the people from oppression. An ex-FBI agent M. Wesley Swearingen is interviewed about his targeting of a communist group in COINTELPRO-like methods, defends his self-described "hundreds" of bag jobs by saying

"none of us worried too much about the illegality, because most of us were veterans from World War II. Gee, all you had to do is wave a flag and we'd stand up and salute and do all kinds of things. And after the indoctrination we got in training school about communism and the communist party and how they were trying to overthrow us, it was like war all over again, just that no one was shooting at anybody yet..."(p. 86)

Like in the 1950s, the FBI enjoys recruiting its agents from police or military. Like Swearingen noted above, all you have to do is "wave a flag and we'd stand up and salute and do all kinds of things." And so when people want to stop genocide, exploitation and other madness, the state is meanwhile teaching its agents that it's war, only no one is getting shot yet. It's war because poor people don't want to live in land contaminated by toxic waste, because poor people are protesting the corporate greed, the war on the Third World, etc. For objecting to this monstrous behavior it's like "a war all over again."

The "bag job" involved breaking into a home of a suspect, and if the suspect was a communist or member of the CP the agents would search for any pieces of paper with anyone's names. It could be the paper boy's name but agents would gather these names and add them to the "security index" which was a list kept by the FBI of those "subversives" (communists) who, in case of "national emergency," would be rounded up in concentration kamps. This was awfully similar to how in California prisons the state deals with the validation process: during all searches any names found in a supposed gang member's cell are added to a database as a gang associate for future targeting and possible round up into SHU (concentration kamp). The similarities are uncanny, if you simply substitute "communist party" with "prison gang" you would think a lot of this was written about California's validation program.

For example, the ex-FBI agent M. Wesley Swearingen goes on to say

"During the Church Committee hearings one of the Senators asked James Adams, who was the associate director of the FBI, how long a person would stay on the security index. I think they were talking about one individual who had been on there something like twenty or twenty-five years. And the senator said 'Did you have any information that he was still a member of the communist party?' and Adam's response was 'we didn't have any information that he was not a member of the communist party, then we'd keep him in there and we'd keep him on the security index.' Sometimes we would get information that someone did drop out of the communist party, but we wouldn't believe it anyway. Bill Sennett stayed on the security index almost ten years after he quit the party because no one would believe it."(p. 95)

The chapter titled "Five minutes to midnight" discussed the underground. In the late '50s CP-USA began discussing the inevitability of war between the Soviet Union and the United States. It was decided that the United States was on the verge of repression and so to survive the coming fascism the party would need an underground organization.

The underground apparatus was organized in three different levels. The first level was called "deep freeze" which were top leadership who jumped bail for conviction on the Smith Act which basically criminalized the act of being a communist, along with those who it was assumed would be in the next sweep of arrests. The second level was called the "deep deep freeze." These were trusted members who would be a source of leadership should all the other leaders be arrested. Many of these people were sent abroad to Mexico, Canada or Europe, kind of like sleeper cells, to lead normal lives and not engage in any political activity. The third level was called "operative but unavailable" who traveled state to state in disguise working as liaison between the aboveground party and the deep freeze.

According to the author, millions of dollars were spent on the underground apparatus with lodgings, transportation, and the courier system that kept the hundreds of men and wimmin underground. This took its toll with almost everyone abandoning the party within five years. The writer states "seasoned communists realized the impossibility of carrying a political movement in this fashion." A couple of decades later, activists would probably beg to differ with this because of the targeting, murder, and imprisonment that followed being above ground.

The Smith Act created some real anti-communist ways of thinking. The city of Birmingham, Alabama for instance passed a law in the 1950s mandating that all communists had forty-eight hours to leave town or face imprisonment. This was looked at as normal treatment for political ideas by many. This continues to sound like the witch hunts progressive prisoners face today in Amerika where you are locked in control units, not for acts, but ideas, beliefs or assumed beliefs and yet it's not for 2 or 3 years like when the Smith Act was enforced but decades and sometimes for life!

Red Scare falls short in not analyzing the politics of this era, not discussing the political line of revolutionary groups of the 1950s. The Jim Crowism was not even really talked about much. The author does discuss events like the Rosenberg trial/execution, children of the persecuted and what ey calls "redactors" who were the teachers who were persecuted under McCarthyism. But ey does not get into the oppressed nations of that time. The author gives one example of the CP-USA going to New Mexico to work in the Chicano barrios, briefly mentions the Black Panthers, and does not even mention the First Nations.

One will not learn anything of the different ideologies of that time yet this book is worth reading if you seek to understand the birth of COINTELPRO which really decimated the oppressed nations' struggles in the '60s and '70s. Although this book was written in the 1990s it reads as if it was written in the 1950s with its oppressor-nation outlook on struggles during the McCarthy period, a little too vanilla and boring, but worth plowing through the 500+ pages only for its content on early COINTELPRO.

Red Scare speaks volumes about the success of the Soviet Union in building socialism, a more popular alternative to capitalism. While it is easy to laugh at the extreme paranoia expressed by the state in this period, there was a real fear starting in the 1930s when the Soviet Union was developing in leaps while the capitalist world crumbled under the great depression. Coming out of World War II, during which the Soviet Union demonstrated its technological and ideological strength, the Red Scare of the 1950s reflected this.

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[United Front] [Idealism/Religion] [Michigan]
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Response to ULK 48 on Islam and United Front Organizing

I received ULK 48, thank you. From 1998 to right after the towers fell in New York, I received MIM Notes, which were instrumental in my politicalization and capacity to be critical with information. Hopefully re-connecting with MIM will aid me in similar if not greater ways.

As far as the ULK 48, dedicated to the discussion of religious organizations in prison, I would like to add a few observations, critiques and opinions that may aid in better understanding what I consider, the functional limits of prison religious organizations.

I preface the following by stating that like many young, impressionable Black males who entered the Michigan penal system in the mid-1990s, I was heavily recruited by a non-orthodox Islamic sect. It was part religious, part Black nationalist, part civic, radical in the sense that it gave it to the grey and black as well as it took it, but the religious organization was mostly philosophically and ideologically backwards. No clearly defined political lines, no effort toward developing social change theory, and no revolutionary practices or principles cognizable to a revolutionary novice, let alone a seasoned agent for change.

However, the group did introduce me to books, which I fell in love with after spending four years in solitary confinement where there was little else to do besides read to escape the attendant activities characteristic of that environment. In the beginning, narrow nationalism and Islamic related literature is all I read. Far more lasting than any specific set of facts or pieces of knowledge obtained, reading provided me with the understanding of how to acquire knowledge on my own. I learned how to read an essay closely, search for new sources, find data to prove or disprove a hypothesis, and detect an author's prejudice, among other skills, that were not promoted during my K-12 educational experience.

Considering the inescapable oppression of long term solitary confinement, it was inevitable that my attention would be turned to ideas and actions I could take to prevent future experiences of isolation, for myself as well as others. Trying to pray or wish my problems away proved extremely ineffective. I abandoned closing my eyes and hoping for a different reality when I opened them, rather quickly. But I do feel indebted to the group for leading me to books - prior to prison I had never read a book from cover to cover, or for more than entertainment.

After reading ULK 48, the first question that comes to mind is, do religious groups in Michigan prisons possess any power - real or latent - to stimulate and direct constructive social change? Or are they, too, victims of the overall U.S. capitalist structure?

While I'm aware that many people would answer these questions in many different ways, I observe that religion plays chiefly a cathartic role for the imprisoned. It provides an opportunity for followers to "let off steam," to seek release for emotions which cannot be expressed to administrators and guards without consequences. Prison religious organizations are social and recreational and a haven for comfort, no matter how illusory or temporary. Within these groups imprisoned people can assume responsibilities and authority not available elsewhere in the prison. For example, s/he can be the head of security, treasurer or public relations director. Only within the religious organization can imprisoned people engage in political intrigue and participate in decisions open to non-imprisoned people.

The potential power of religious organizations in prison is the ability to attract large numbers of imprisoned people. Although their ability to recruit is severely being challenged here in Michigan by the rise of street organizations i.e., gangs, whose numbers have skyrocketed in the last ten years. Among their more flagrant weaknesses is the fact that their potential strengths can all too easily be dissipated by preoccupation with trivial matters (e.g., did Moses part the Red Sea; did Jesus walk on water; what did Muhammad say about facial hair, eating pork, or what activities should be performed with the left hand?), and the desperate struggle for the empty status, bombast, and show of the prison world.

It is not inevitable, and virtually impossible to politicalize and transform members of these groups into social change agents when religious doctrines emphasize the idea of someone other than you/me/us possessing the power to change present reality: the instruments of escape, weapons of protest, the protective fortress behind which adherents seek to withstand the assaults of a hostile environment and within which s/he plans strategies of defiance, is prayer.

It is no wonder then why imprisoned people who have been politicalized tend to reject religious organizations as a multiple symbol of fantasy; and tend to regard prison religious organizations as basically irrelevant to challenging the hard and difficult realities of capitalism, white supremacy, police powers that can reach all the way into one's bedroom or a woman's womb, and so on.

That this is not more widely recognized by members of these groups may be in part because religious organizations are not an effective model of critical thinking. The fact that religious organizations are the most pervasive groups in Michigan prisons, and the fact that they do not play any measurable role dissenting or resisting the frustrating, oppressive, degrading experience of incarceration, are cruelly related.

If religious organizations are a powerful social force, either the facility, Central Office, or the State would severely restrict/eliminate them. The facade of power which these groups now present would be removed. Think about it, most religious meetings in prison go unsupervised.

Members of these groups hold on to the idea that an all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present being will save them at some appointed time and date, while this being had neglected their other needs as human beings. The punishment of "crime" is a political act. It represents the use of force by the State to control the lives of people the State has defined as criminal. No concerted political efforts have been made by these groups to deal with the politics, i.e., the underlying causes of incarceration.

My objective is not to argue that religious belief and political consciousness are incompatible. Speculation on that level is pointless and irrelevant for the purpose of this discussion. However, the simple truth is that the trouble imprisoned people find themselves in, the sham and corruption, the class and race biases of criminal law enforcement, cannot be solved unless imprisoned people feel obligated to learn about systems of power, privilege and oppression, and also feel obligated to do something about them.


MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade is correct to point out that there are significant limitations to religious organizations, whether behind bars or on the streets. And ultimately only by targeting the underlying systems of oppression will we put an end to criminal injustice and imperialism. However, what this letter does not address is the distinction of some of the more anti-imperialist religious movements like Islam. As we argued in ULK 48 "Just as religion is today an outlet for many radical youth in the Third World, religion has been influenced by revolutionary politics in the context of New Afrika. In the 20th century we see a turn towards Islam by a number of New Afrikans who are searching for identity and liberation from oppression by Amerika." We do not push people towards religion, but at the same time we look to unite with those whose religion is compatible with or promoting national liberation. We have a good historical example of this united front in the Christian liberation theologists in Latin America who were a part of revolutionary national liberation struggles in that part of the world starting in the 1950s.

Uniting with organizations that do not share our political line entirely is part of united front organizing. We focus on the principal contradiction, and unite with others who agree with this goal, while retaining independence to make clear where we disagree politically. In a united front led by communists religious groups can be important allies. But we should always be clear that true equality for all people will not be achieved through belief in a higher power or any other unscientific mysticism.

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